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Tackling misconceptions regarding OCD

Updated: Nov 17, 2020


Written By: Khafia Iftikhar


It bothers me because of my OCD.


How many times has someone around you spoken this exact phrase or a variation of it? How guilty are you of uttering the aforementioned statement? To be honest, I, myself, have spoken this phrase in the past without realizing its true implications. To us, it seems the same as speaking aloud any other phrase. We mindlessly string together a bunch of words to justify our actions, but we never pause to think about the weight of our words. Or the weight of one word we’re speaking: OCD.


Now, we’ve all heard some textbook definition of this mental disorder. OCD, which stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a disorder in which an individual has repeated, obsessive thoughts to an extent that causes them apparent distress. That makes sense, doesn’t it? However, it does not begin to explain the true nature of this disorder and how it plagues the lives of those that are diagnosed with it. OCD is not just about continuously washing your hands or wanting your life space to be clean. This view of OCD is simply the tip of the iceberg, which is what we see and the media depicts. If you look below the water, you’ll see that it encompasses much more. Imagine a thought popping into your head. For many of us, a dozen trains of thoughts drop by and leave in our minds, but for someone with OCD, a thought latches on. It digs its claws into the confines of the patient’s mind, and until they perform the task, it is screaming at them to–and many times, they need to perform it more than once. What’s worse is this thought is a frequent visitor in the brains of those with OCD, not just a one-time guest.


The first misconception regarding this disorder is that there is only one type of OCD. This type is generally thought to be an obsession with cleanliness and having things in order. However, individuals with OCD can obsess over almost anything, ranging from checking locks and appliances repeatedly to rereading and rewriting documents for hours to ensure that all is perfect. Individuals that are diagnosed with this disorder are all unique, and must endure their own version of it. Some may not even worry about washing their hands or ensuring no dust floats about, but may struggle with harming intrusive thoughts such as violently hurting somebody. We can even go as far as to say that someone with OCD may be extremely messy. Gasp! Sadly, only this certain type of OCD is given the appropriate amount of exposure, and so, it is how many of us classify the disorder. In the words of psychologist, Martin Hisa, Psy.D, “OCD takes many different forms that don’t get written about.” (1)


However, the greatest misconception is confusing OCD with OCPD, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. OCPD is a disorder in which people prefer their life and all aspects of it to be ideally organized, and as aforementioned, it is how people mistakenly perceive OCD to be. However, the key to contrast the two is realizing that one is wanted, while the other isn’t. Individuals with OCPD report an absence of unwanted thoughts or fear attached to their behaviour–they willingly partake in these behaviours. (2) On the other hand, for someone diagnosed with OCD, their behaviour isn’t onset by will or enjoyment; it is onset by a thought constantly nagging them. They have a fear embedded within them which reminds them over and over that if they do not portray a particular behaviour, something horrible will happen.


The persistence of these myths and misconceptions can be attributed to a wide array of reasons, some being inaccurate portrayal in the media, lack of education, and stigmatisation of mental health. Taking action is not just the responsibility of therapists, psychologists, or those individuals which suffer from this disorder. Each of us have a duty as well to educate ourselves and those around us on the real, vicious nature of this disorder and why it is not okay to generalize our behaviour by claiming ‘we have OCD’. So, the next time you feel yourself on the precipice of uttering those words or you hear them from someone, take action by correcting yourself or others. That’s where change begins.


About the Author: Khafia Iftikhar

Hi! I’m Khafia and I’m studying Life Science at McMaster. I love to write, am obsessed with Netflix and am passionate about mental health and the environment.


References

1. Tartakovsky M. The worst, most persistent myths about OCD. Psych Central; 2018 [cited 2020 Nov 2]. Available from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-worst-most-persistent-myths-about-ocd/

2. Expert discusses common OCD misconceptions. Baylor College of Medicine; 2017 [cited 2020 Nov 2]. Available from: https://www.bcm.edu/news/expert-discusses-common-ocd-misconceptions

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